All Saints’ Day in the Modern Age

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single burning candle on a dark background with reflection

A new month has begun. Winter is approaching, and with it comes shorter days and longer nights. The dying of the light makes many a person uneasy.

November 1 has long been a day of sacred observance, with religious rituals dating as far back as Celtic calendars. In Western tradition it is known as All Saints’ Day, All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas, during which several denominations within the Christian church hold festivals or observances. Traditionally it was a celebration to honor all the saints from the history of Christianity.  All Saints’ Day has been described as a time to, “…remember the saints and to allow the memory of their faith spur us on to deeper worship and greater service to the Lord.”

On or around this date many believers all over the globe hold special services or perform rituals. Over time it has evolved to include all believers who have passed, not just individuals revered as saints. The rituals of remembrance vary greatly between countries & denominations. Candles are lit, flowers and wreaths are placed near memorials or on graves, prayers are spoken. Some churches hold an annual observance on the first Sunday in November to read the names of all church members, or family of church members, who have died in the past year. It is a way to honor the connections between all believers. It can also be a time to reflect with gratitude on the lives of those who had a positive influence on others, and helped guide them in some way.

Taking a moment to pause in thankfulness and honor the memories of those who have gone before us can be done no matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs. Rituals, no matter how simple, can be a source of healing and strength. Remembering those who have influenced us in the past and reflecting upon departed loved ones can be a grounding experience and remind us of our roots. It can be encouraging and empowering to reconnect with our past and recall the lessons taught through the lives of those important to us. We can remember the wisdom they imparted and acknowledge the impact they had on the world.

In “The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd” Mary Rose O’Reilley penned these words:

“In the Christian calendar, November 1 is the Feast of All Saints, a day honoring not only those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but more especially the unknowns, saints who walk beside us unrecognized down the millennia. In Buddhism, we honor the bodhisattvas – saints – who refuse enlightenment and return willingly to the wheel of karma to help other beings. Similarly, in Judaism, anonymous holy men pray the world from its well-merited destruction. We never know who is walking beside us, who is our spiritual teacher. That one – who annoys you so – pretends for a day that he’s the one, your personal Obi Wan Kenobi. The first of November is a splendid, subversive holiday.

Imagine a hectic procession of revelers… I bring them before my mind’s eye, these old friends of my soul, awakening to dance their day. Crazy saints; but who knows what was home in the heart? This is the feast of those who tried to take the path, so clumsily that no one knew or notice, the feast, indeed, of most of us.”

This is the feast of that which binds us together. A time to celebrate connectedness. Of human striving towards the light, and fighting against the dark.

As the days become shorter, and the darkness deepens, it is a time to hold on to the light. As we recall the lives of those who have gone before us, we also remember their light. We hold it close, reveling in the brightness, and draw it within our hearts to protect us against the long nights that await.


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1)



Jennifer Roberts Bittner

Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist

Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service, A Life Celebration Home

6500 Iron Bridge Rd.

N. Chesterfield, VA 23234

(804) 275-7828

Serving the Richmond area since 1870



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